Vivian at Thrive NC


With its mission to highlight the bounty of flavor that North Carolina offers and to promote healthy communities, Thrive NC sold out its two-day festival in downtown Raleigh this year. On May 9 and 10, 50 restaurants from all across the region packed City Market, handing out hearty samples of their locally focused food. (The kitchen squad from Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria showed up, too, cooking a “Southern Chicken Parm” with pickled peppers for the masses.)

Vivian hosted Thursday night cooking demos with three chef friends on the Thrive NC stage. Doing what she does best, she led each set through moments of learning and comic relief.

Dean Neff took the stage first. At PinPoint Restaurant in downtown Wilmington, Dean has created a beautiful menu rooted in coastal food traditions and seasonal ingredients. On the Thrive NC stage, Dean and Vivian discussed seasonal cooking for busy parents —  and the unique dilemma of feeding your family healthy meals even when your day job is a chef. 

“You can evolve in this industry and still take care of your family,” Vivian said. And it’s true. Dean and Vivian listed off healthy staples that they buy on every trip to the grocery store, like cabbage, broccoli and sweet potato. All of these affordable items have a long shelf life and can be used to bulk up recipes. Of course, sweet potatoes are available all year long in North Carolina. Vivian crisps the skins in a pan and tops them with veggies (and extra cheese for Flo) or uses them as a crispy, vitamin-rich addition to salads. Think healthy croutons.

In the next demo Vivian joined Brian Noyes of Red Truck Rural Bakery in Marshall, Va., for a biscuit lesson. An art-director-turned-farmer-and-baker, Brian values rural food traditions as much as Vivian. The main takeaway of Brian’s demo (which Vivian fans should already know): don’t buy that fat-free buttermilk.

Cynthia Wong concluded the presentation. The six-time James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef recently pivoted from running the bakery at Charleston’s Butcher & Bee to founding Life Raft Treats. Cynthia launched the mobile ice cream parlor after wanting to venture into a more personal project. Sharing a moment of vulnerability as chefs, as mothers, and as business owners, Cynthia and Vivian talked about the demands that accompany running a restaurant, and what it feels like to please other people while often forgetting about what makes you happy. Cynthia admitted she was looking for “a way to bring back that joy” that got her in the kitchen in the first place. Her whimsical treats— such as ice cream that looks exactly like fried chicken— could put a smile on even the grumpiest face. As she made a version of Choco Tacos with Vivian, the two friends invoked hilarious Lucy and Ethel vibes. 

For more on Thrive NC presented by Blue Cross NC, visit